The Effects of Japanese Civil Society on Policy-Making

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The Effects of Japanese Civil Society on Policy-Making I. Introduction My interest in this project began after studying Japan for four years as an undergraduate and realizing I knew relatively little of the country’s political atmosphere. I assumed after reading Western political scholars’ views on the subject, that it was a relatively homogonous nation and only after the Occupational Authority entered Japan had the country emerged with democratic ideals and a true notion of liberal rights. It is true that citizens’ movements are a comparatively recent modern phenomenon in a country filled with millennia of rich cultural and political history. Still today, however numbers of Westerners, including some scholars, see Japan through Orientalism’s foreign and exotic eyes and continue the assumption that hierarchy rules politics and the working class disengages themselves from day-to-day politics. This paper not only attempts to present a broad understanding of Japan’s political history, but also show how civil society has transformed from early Meiji society to post World War II restructuring. While outsiders believe democracy and liberal rights are an inherently novel part of Japanese culture, this paper illustrates the historical basis for a rich electorate, thriving with individual and interpersonal interest in freedom, rights, and the political environment around them. The cleavages that divide civil society and the government policy-making in Japan have been written about at length. The groups examined in this paper, including the Meiji Popular Rights Movement and the post World War II environmental movement, formed organizations to address the conflict that constantly attacked their personal values. In each case, the government refused to proactively respond, from the lack of representation during the late 19th century to the pollution that destroyed lands and lives in the 1960s and 1970s. Both of these groups asked for policy changes from local governments in order to promote their efforts through political participation, and some of these measures progressed to national levels. From the beginning of the Meiji Restoration to today, Japan exhibits dramatic progressive political awareness and engagement, therefore I deny any allegation that Japan was undemocratic until General MacArthur’s restructuring in 1945. Throughout the scholarly debate and the execution of factual evidence, three problems arise in the comparative analysis of the two examples. The first consists of the argument that Japan’s civil society, specific to the two time periods analyzed in this paper, was formulated directly within and of the state.
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